CHATHAM, NJ - Michael Bazzani has been the most upbeat player on the Chatham High baseball team in 2014, despite the fact that the Cougars lost their first 11 games of the season.
"He always has a smile on the face and he's always ready to play," Chatham coach Jim Ascolese said. "All the other kids kind of rally around him and he's become one of our leaders."
Bazzani gave his teammates a reason to join his cheery attitude last week when he hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning and then went to the mound and closed out the game as Chatham defeated Madison, 8-7. It marked the first varsity triumph for Ascolese in his first year as the head coach.
Bazzani is TAP's Chatham Athlete of the Week.
"It was just really nice to get a win because some of us were getting down," Bazzani said. "Towards the end of the game it got intense and I was just really happy we could pull out a win."
Bazzani's home run to left field erased a 7-6 deficit and gave Chatham the slim lead. But Bazzani had to hold back the good feelings since he had to finish the job on the mound.
"We had another inning to go," said Bazzani, who pitched 3 2/3 innings of relief. "After the homer, I kind of had to tell myself "the game's not over, you still have to pitch another inning.' And make sure no one scores. I thought I did a good job of that. After that, it was time to celebrate."
Bazzani should be celebrating his entire season at this point. Through 14 games, the senior outfielder is batting .475 with 19 hits, seven runs scored and eight RBI for a team that has struggled to score. He also has three outfield assists and owns a 3.71 pitching ERA.
"Even with his outs, he's hitting the ball hard," Chatham senior pitcher Colby Collier said. "He works hard. He's always in there taking extra swings. He gained a lot of muscle weight and he's big and strong."
Bazzani has played both left field and center field for Chatham this season and has settled in as the No. 3 hitter in the order. The right-handed batter has a .533 on-base percentage and his on-base plus slugging stands at 1.133. He's batting a gaudy .545 with runners in scoring position.
"Mike is having a phenomenal year," Ascolese said. "He's doing everything that we ask him to, especially on the mound, in the field and at the plate. He plays left field and center field, batted in the first and third spot in the order. No matter where he is he gets the job done on a consistent basis.
"As a pitcher, we planned on starting him, but he had some arm trouble in the beginnig. Now he's come in as a reliever and done a good job at that."